For Algarve Pro, the 4 Hours of Imola, round 2 of the 2016 European Le Mans Series season, was the last event before the team’s Le Mans debut. The outcome of the race was not the one the team was working for, but the team and drivers had good mileage with a competitive package at Silverstone and Imola to get ready for the 24 Hours, to be competed on June 18-19.
After the top 10 finish at the 4 Hours of Silverstone in April, Algarve Pro went to Italy and the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari in good spirits. For the whole crew, the plan was to continue to have the car in the top 10 while preparing for the big event in La Sarthe. As Michael Munemann, Sir Chris Hoy and Parth Ghorpade raced for the first time together at Silverstone, the other goal in the 4 Hours of Imola was to gain further experience at the wheel of the Ligier JS P2-Nissan, one of the best combinations to be found in the LMP2 class.
After free practice sessions (7th in FP1, 12th in FP2), qualifying was very encouraging for the #25 blue and white Nissan powered Ligier, as Parth Ghorpade qualified 10th . This proved once again that Algarve Pro has the potential for another overall top 10 finish.
Just as he did at Silverstone Michael Munemann started the race under cloudy conditions. He dropped to P14 after lap 1 but maintained a consistent pace during his stint in the early stages of the race. The 6-time Olympic Gold Medallist Sir Chris Hoy took the wheel on lap 25 with the plan of driving as must as possible in race before fulfilling his long-time dream of competing in the 24 Hours, and during his initial laps he experienced multiple Full Course Yellows but once again posted consistent lap times, and gained positions.
Working his way up to 11th place after a 1 hour 45 minute stint the Scotsman handed over to Parth Ghorpade, so with only 90 minutes remaining the team were looking forward to see Ghorphade make up more places, but as dark clouds started to gather in the sky above the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari, the Indian driver having just set the cars fastest lap of the race so far reported an issue with the power steering and after series of unexpected pit stops the decision was made to retire the car just before the final hour of the race, which ended with a Full Course Yellow and a Safety Car period under heavy rain.
We had very good test at Imola the week before the race, and with Andrea Pizzitola’s help the 3 ELMS drivers improved over the 2 days and they all commented on how well the car was balanced, so the whole team were looking forward to the race.
Stewart Cox, reflections from Imola to Le Mans : “We had very good test at Imola the week before the race, and with Andrea Pizzitola’s help the 3 ELMS drivers improved over the 2 days and they all commented on how well the car was balanced, so the whole team were looking forward to the race. Michael is a genuine gentleman-driver who loves driving the P2 car, he started the race and was only 3.5 seconds a lap slower than the leading cars and I think he had a bit left in him but he knew it was the last race before the big one and just wanted to finish this stint and hand the car over to Chris. As you have already read we gave Chris as much running as possible in the last race before the 24 Hours Le Mans, and he did another good job he just keeps improving and managed the traffic well. This was Parth’s second race at the wheel of an LMP2 car and we are seeing a big improvements every time he drives. He went eight tenths quicker in qualifying than in testing so P10 was good for us, and he was happy with that. I was looking forward to seeing him on the track but after three laps he reported a problem with steering. We basically had a failure with the electric power steering unit and elected not to change it as the heavens had opened so with regret we retired the car. Now we must get ready for Le Mans and we have test next week with the three LM drivers so they can get an understanding of the car with low downforce.”